Peter Milligan / Brendan McCarthy / Carol Swain - Skin [graphic novel] (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

Peter Milligan / Brendan McCarthy / Carol Swain

Skin [graphic novel] (1992)

Tundra Publishing

Punk and realism have always gone hand in hand. While metalheads sing canticles of witchcraft and folklore and the dance-rock kids sing about futuristic computer worlds, for the most part, punk has kept its focus on the human and his or her real-life surroundings. So it should come as no surprise that a comic foray into the punk subgenre would be stitched in gritty realism that unapologetically dives straight into issues so controversial, the effects would nearly kill its chances for publication.

Drafted in the late `80s, Skin was originally set to be published in 1990 as part of a Fleetway 2000 AD spinoff called Crisis. Artist Brendan McCarthy brought Irish author Peter Milligan's script to life, and Carol Swain put the finishing touches of color on the anticipated release. However, with disapproval from printers and unease from the publisher itself, the inclusion was scrapped and Skin was left with no outlet for release. Shortly thereafter, however, the graphic novel was picked up by TMNT originator Kevin Eastman's experimental publishing company Tundra, and in 1992, Skin hit the streets.

With an "adults only" label on the cover and full-page rational for explicit content, Skin tells the story of Martin Atchitson, a young British skinhead born with debilitating deformations as a result of his mother taking the drug thalidomide while pregnant, a drug prescribed by doctors through the 1960s to "help" women deal with the pains of childbirth. In many ways, Martin typifies the skinhead mold of the late 1970s: boots and braces, suspenders to keep his Levis at an acceptable height, and an unpredictable, violent streak that means he can erupt at any given time. Compounding these hostile tendencies is Martin's disabilities as a "seal boy" with "flapper arms" (essentially, hands that come out of his shoulders), and a "wanker who couldn't wank." Encouraged and educated on the subject of thalidomide and the drug companies that made bank off his tragedy by Ruby, his love interest, Martin learns to harness the frustration of living with his deformities and direct them at those responsible for his condition. However, with multiple instances of sexual assault and brute violence, Martin is a tough sell as "protagonist" of the story. But with the drug company chairman still "driving round his Rolls Royce" and living lavishly while Martin barely ekes out survival in a life of pain and shame, the path to revenge becomes the primary focus for both the reader and Martin Atchitson.

Though now long out of print, Skin still lives on as an important and challenging work in the field of graphic novels. There are still occasional copies that pop up for sale online for those willing to lay down some dough, but for most, the story is more readily available in the form of "Martin Atchet," a brutally intense audio retelling by hardcore innovators Modern Life Is War. Whatever your media, the story of Martin Atchitson is one that will intrigue, compel and stir your moral fibers while blurring the line of right, wrong, and reasonable revenge.